Cancer defense: Scientists create designer viruses that send ‘killer cells’ to fight tumor

Cancer defense: Scientists create designer viruses that send ‘killer cells’ to fight tumor
A team of Swiss scientists have created artificial viruses that stimulate the immune system which in turn activates and sends a “powerful army” of so-called killer cells to fight cancerous tumors.

Cancer cells are notoriously good at evading the immune system, but viral infections cause the body to act quickly, stimulating the system to use all available means to fight the unwanted invader.

This new designer therapy capitalizes on the body’s ability to quickly spot a virus, so that when the immune system “sees” it, it can hunt down cancer, hopefully killing the tumor, according to the press release published by the University of Basel.

Researchers, lead by Professor Daniel Pinschewer from the University of Basel and Professor Doron Merkler from the University of Geneva, built artificial viruses based on lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which can infect both rodents and humans.

Although the viruses were not harmful for mice, they did produce alarm signals which were picked up by the human immune system. The team of virologists also integrated proteins found in cancer cells into the viruses.

Infected with the harmless designer virus, it enabled the immune system to recognize these cancer proteins as dangerous, allowing the body to create a “powerful army of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, also known as killer cells, which identified the cancer cells through their protein and successfully destroyed them.”

“We hope that our new findings and technologies will soon be used in cancer treatments and so help to further increase their success rates,” the study’s senior author, Professor Pinschewer said in a statement.

The team's research was published Saturday in the Nature Communications journal.